Friday, April 26, 2013

Myth Busters: Organic IS affordable!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the inaugural class of the Family Meals Project, a pilot project to help families learn to cook nutritious and delicious meals on a tight budget – around $10 for an entire meal for a family.  Think it’s impossible?  The last meal came in at about $2 per person, including salad, entrĂ©e and dessert!

As a registered dietitian and nutritionist who cares deeply about where my foodcomes from, and the impact of its production on my body and the environment, I wondered:  Could I make an affordable $10 dinner using sustainably or organically and locally produced foods? 

The short answer:  Yes!  I didn’t hit the $10 mark, but this beautiful menu of a roasted spring vegetable salad with a lemon vinaigrette, followed by a vegetable Bolognese lasagna and poached pears with cranberries, rang in at only about $3.81 per person.   
I shopped for the class at the Bellingham Community Co-op, purchasing mostly local and organic ingredients.  And it didn’t break the bank!  You just have to be selective. 

This chart shows the total cost of all of the ingredients.

Dish Cost per Meal Cost per Serving
Roasted Spring Vegetable Salad    
Serves 6 - 8    
2 lemons ($0.33/each) $0.66 $0.08
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper pantry pantry
extra virgin olive oil pantry pantry
12 small spring carrots ($1.98/lb) $1.44 $0.18
1 bunch of radishes ($1.98/ea) $1.98 $0.25
6 cups spring salad mix ($5.98 for 12 cups) $2.99 $0.37
TOTAL $7.07 $0.88
Vegetable Lasagna    
Makes 8 large servings    
extra virgin olive oil pantry pantry
1 onion ($1.29/lb) $0.50 $0.06
1 large carrot $0.12 $0.02
1 stalk celery $0.10 $0.01
2 cloves garlic $0.05 $0.01
red pepper flakes pantry pantry
2 bay leaves pantry pantry
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper pantry pantry
24 ounces whole tomatoes $1.99 $0.25
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour pantry pantry
3 cups whole milk ($3.59 for half gallon) $1.34 $0.17
1 cup grated parmesan cheese ($8.99/lb) $2.13 $0.27
nutmeg pantry pantry
1 package frozen spinach $1.49 $0.19
1 1/2 pkg whole wheat lasagna noodles ($3.89/ea) $5.84 $0.73
TOTAL $13.56 $1.70
Poached Pears with Cranberries    
Serves 8    
2 cups apple cider ($3.39 for 4 cups) $1.70 $0.21
¼ cup honey ($4.99 for 6 ounces, local) $1.66 $0.21
1 inch piece fresh ginger $0.10 $0.01
2 star anise (or cinnamon sticks) pantry pantry
4 Bosc pears (firm), peeled ($2.49/lb) $5.98 $0.75
¼ cup dried cranberries ($3.75/lb) $0.42 $0.05
TOTAL $9.86 $1.23
Total Cost of Meal for EIGHT SERVINGS $30.49  
Total Cost of Meal for FOUR SERVINGS $15.25  
Total Cost of Meal for ONE PERSON $3.81  
Here are a few tips for making organic shopping more affordable.

But cost isn’t the only focus of the Family Meals Project.  At each class, we gather together in the kitchen to learn and share stories, not only about cooking and nutrition, but about our lives.  And really, that’s what cookingfor your family is really all about.  It’s a way to connect with the people you love and care about, to give you a vehicle for conversation, one that feeds your body and your soul.

And now, for the recipes.

Roasted Spring Vegetable Salad

Serves 6 - 8

Zest of one lemon
Juice from 2 lemons, about 4 tablespoons
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
12 small spring carrots
1 bunch of radishes, washed and trimmed
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups spring salad mix
Radish greens, washed well

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon zest, juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel the carrots and place with whole radishes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast about 10 - 12 minutes or until crisp-tender and lightly browned. 

Vegetable Lasagna 

This recipe has a lot of steps, but all of the parts can be mixed-and-matched to make other dishes.  For example, make a double or a triple batch of the basic tomato sauce, and freeze it in quart containers or freezer bags.  You can just thaw and reheat to make a quick pasta dinner or add to a soup stock for a delicious soup.

Makes 8 - 12 servings

Basic Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup red wine (optional)
24 ounces whole tomatoes, crushed by hand

Basic Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 cups whole milk, warmed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out completely
1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles*
½ cup grated provolone or mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Make Basic Tomato Sauce

Heat olive oil in medium-sized pot over medium-low heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, bay leaves salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown.  Add red wine.  Bring to a simmer and cook until wine has reduced to a few tablespoons.  Add tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 – 45 minutes, or until sauce is thick and fragrant. 

Make Basic Cheese Sauce

Place a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add butter.  Cook until butter is melted and foaming.  Add flour.  Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste is formed.   Continue to cook 3 – 4 minutes, stirring.  Add warmed milk, 1 cup at a time, whisking briskly, until sauce is smooth.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook and stir until sauce is thick.  Stir in parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Stir in thawed spinach.

Assemble lasagna in a 10 x 20 inch lasagna pan. 

Place about ½ - ¾ cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Top with lasagna noodles.  Add another ½ - ¾ cup tomato sauce and then layer about ½ cup of the cheese sauce.  Top with another layer of lasagna noodles.  Repeat three more times (or until you run out of sauce).  Over the last layer of lasagna noodles, spread ¾ cup of tomato sauce.  Top with shredded cheese.

Cover tightly with foil.  Place on a baking sheet, in case sauce bubbles over.  Bake for 45 minutes with foil on top.  Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is just starting to brown and lasagna is bubbling.  If the cheese starts to get too brown, replace foil.  Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.      

*I don’t cook my lasagna noodles ahead of time.  It has always seemed like an unnecessary step, and not cooking them actually turns out lasagna with a better texture—one that holds together beautifully and doesn’t fall apart with the first bite.  As long as you provide plenty of liquid for the noodles to absorb, your noodles will be perfectly toothsome to the bite.

Poached Pears with Cranberries

Serves 8

2 cups water
2 cups apple cider
¼ cup honey
1 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 star anise (or cinnamon sticks)
4 Bosc pears (firm), peeled, cored and quartered
¼ cup dried cranberries

Pour water and apple cider into a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Add honey and stir to dissolve.  Add ginger and star anise.  Add pears.  Simmer, making sure the pears are covered with liquid, until the pears until cooked through, about 15 to 25 minutes.

Remove from heat, add dried cranberries and let the pears cool in their liquid.  If you like, you can remove the pears from the liquid and reduce down to a thick sauce.  Spoon over the pears.  Serve warm or cold.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Springtime Potlucks

This is the time of year when spring time gatherings are in full-swing. Barbeques, bridal showers, and birthday celebrations are filling up my calendar quickly.

And every time I’m asked to attend a pot-luck style event, I usually resort to one of these two dishes:

1. Full meal salads, such as this onethat is always a hit


2. Fresh veggies or fruit with scrumptious dip – such as these ideas below.

Classic Hummus

This classic hummus dip is a perfect snack or appetizer at your next gathering. It pairs well with fresh cut veggies or tortilla chips, and makes for a healthier option than other creamy dips and dressings. Plus, this homemade hummus is kind to your wallet. An 8 ounce container of organic hummus can cost as much as $4 in the grocery store, but this recipe can be made for a fraction of the cost.


1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 15 ounce can garbanzo bean
¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
¼ cup Greek yogurt (or plain yogurt)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


1. Drain garbanzo beans and rinse under cold, running water. Add beans to a food processor.

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic clove and cook, flipping the garlic clove occasionally, until the garlic is golden brown but not dark.

3. Add garlic with oil to the beans in the food processor and puree.

4. Add tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper. Puree bean mixture until smooth. If the hummus is too thick, add water, one tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste as you go, and adjust salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil if necessary.

Fruit Skewers with Peach Yogurt Dip

Nothing is more satisfying than sweet, refreshing fruit on warm days. Pair these skewers with our peach dip and its guaranteed to be snack or dessert all ages will love.

Ingredients for the skewers:

8 whole fresh strawberries with tops removed
8 medium chunks pineapple
8 medium chunks watermelon
8 medium chunks mango
8 medium chunks honeydew melon or cantaloupe, or papaya

Ingredients for yogurt dip:

1 medium very ripe peach or nectarine, peeled and chopped
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon honey

To make the skewers:

Thread the skewers with 1 strawberry, 1 chunk pineapple, 1 chunk melon, 1 chunk mango, 1 chunk watermelon. Repeat until the skewer is full. Place skewers on a platter.

To make the dip:

Put the chopped peach or nectarine, Greek yogurt, vanilla, and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth, being carefully not to over-mix (you still want a thick consistency). Pour in a small serving dish.

Refrigerate until ready to be served. Serve skewers with dip.

What are your go-to potluck dishes? We'd love to hear them!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Raspberry Banana Powerhouse Smoothie

This past weekend was spent in Berkeley at the LUNA Chix Summit where we offered nutrition consultations, advising the amazing group of LUNA Chix to ditch the diet, trust their gut and use their nutrition intuition.

In addition to debunking some diets, we also advised these hard working athletes how they can best refuel their bodies after an intense workout. The short and sweet answer:

Eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein immediately after exercise to refuel & replenish your body.

This is because carbs are important for replenishing muscle fuel (also known as glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates in our bodies). And protein provides essential amino acids which are the building blocks for muscle repair and growth during and after training.

Ideally, you want to aim for eating your carb & protein rich snack or meal within 15-60 minutes following activity. Post exercise, your body is like a sponge, ready to absorb nutrients!

For many athletes, you may not have an appetite immediately after working out, so having a liquid meal or snack can be useful strategy to help meet your recovery needs.

You may want to try this smoothie below -- it's one of our favorites, not only because it's packed with nutrition but because it's also absolutely delicious.

Raspberry Banana Powerhouse Smoothie

Packed with antioxidants, heart healthy fat, and a major protein punch, this smoothie will start your day out strong, pick you up when you hit your mid-afternoon slump, or refuel your body for the next time you hop on the bike, hit the pavement, or jump in the water.

Makes 1 serving


½ cup nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt (regular yogurt is good, too!)
½- 1 cup nonfat or low-fat cow’s milk or milk alternative (we prefer soy milk)
½- 1 banana
½- 1 cup frozen raspberries
Splash of orange juice
1 tablespoon ground flax seed

Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Slice the strawberry down the center and place on the rim of a glass. Pour smoothie mixture into the glass and serve immediately.

Note: We encourage you to experiment with the ingredients, so you can achieve the consistency, flavor, and quantity that suits your needs and preferences best!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Dietitian Is In! Green Powders

When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!

Question: Should I be using green powders in my diet every day?

Answer: Green powders, consisting mainly of dried freshwater algae, are heavily marketed as the latest dietary “miracle,” boasting the ability to increase energy, aid in digestion and improve immunity. While it is true that many contain ingredients that are concentrated sources of nutrients, these powders may not be worth the hype. Chlorella and spirulina—common ingredients in green powders—contain high levels of nutrients, such as vitamin K and beta-carotene. And wheatgrass juice, which is dried and also often used as a component, provides a good source of vitamin C and iron. Many green powders boast high levels of chlorophyll, but this plant compound is not considered an essential nutrient and there is little science confirming known benefits. Green powders fall under the regulation of dietary supplements, and the Food and Drug Administration is not responsible for making sure they are safe before they go to market. A recent analysis by, an organization that conducts independent analyses of supplements, found three of the 10 green powder supplements tested to be contaminated with lead and/or cadmium. You might be better off skipping expensive green powders and eating real green foods instead—spinach, kale, and broccoli—for a bounty of nutrients with documented health benefits.

This Q &A was written by McKenzie for the "Ask the Expert" section in the January 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.